My Freddie Mercury (again!) – originally by The Platters (way back)

After receiving such great care from The Royal Derby Hospital, I completed an on-line form to be a Volunteer Patient, partly to ‘give back’ a little and also in the hope of this being another way in which to raise awareness of Aspergillosis – particularly amongst medics.

Quite ‘out of the blue’ I received a ‘phone call (about a year later – when I’d forgotten all about it!) from the hospital. The doctor asked if I would still be willing to act as a volunteer patient to a group of final year student doctors, and we went through my medical history and list of medications. He then advised that they would contact me again with the date, which they did, and I received information and instructions for the procedure on the day. I was asked to bring along a dressing gown, slippers and a book to read – my sort of invitation – only short of a luxury spa!

So, the day arrived:

We were greeted at reception by the (very lovely) administrator, to whom I had sent copies of my blogs on the subject of Aspergillosis, in the hope that they would be able to be used for the students, in order to have a perspective from patients. She very kindly told me how interesting and fascinating they were – and that they were a very useful tool. Fab!

Following lunch, the volunteer patients were taken to their stations, mine being the Respiratory Station. The examining doctor for my station performed the examination on me, in order to check for clinical signs before the student doctors carried out their examinations. Guess what? No clinical signs present!! WOW!! Obviously, this was to my great delight (which I did at least try to conceal), even though I know I’m ‘in remission’ – but it’s so good to hear this and to know that my condition is being managed so well at this stage. However, maybe not such good news for the purposes of final year exams! Following discussion (patient presenting with no symptoms?), it was agreed to continue, as the examiner was aware of the lack of clinical signs, this would allow assessment of the students’ ability to detect this accordingly. Also, of course, as practicing doctors they will, obviously, come across ‘the unexpected’! ‘Oh yes, I’m the great pretender – I seem to be what I’m not, you see …….’

As it happens, although the examination was based on chronic respiratory conditions, it was not specific to Aspergillosis – as I had hoped – and not focusing on diagnoses (apparently covered in other examinations). The main objectives being how the students diagnose and treat medical conditions, with a focus on how well they communicate with patients – so very important. So, in some stations the volunteer patients (those who do not have the specific condition) are asked to role play and are given the appropriate training.

What a full afternoon!! I was examined by the examining doctor and then by eighteen student doctors, so not quite the relaxing, lazy day I had expected! After introduction, each examined my neck/glands, eyes, mouth, hands, ankles and listened to and tapped my chest and lungs, (whilst I was deeply inhaling and exhaling). No chance to read my book or do a crossword or two! The request to bring along dressing gown, slippers and book, clearly designed to lull one into a false sense of security and relaxation! That said, my lungs had the best work-out ever that day (LBC – Lung Boot Camp!) and it was an excellent opportunity to be able to contribute to such an important day. I have no idea how many volunteer patients attended, but there were lots – and the whole exercise was so efficiently and effectively organised – only to be expected from the Royal Derby Hospital, of course. So yes, I’d recommend to anyone (with the required stamina!) to become a Volunteer Patient. I’d be very happy to be a ‘pretend patient’ again (given a suitable recuperation period!) – ‘My need is such, I pretend too much ……’


Betty Hutton

Retired following over 22 years with a Voluntary Adoption Agency, now volunteer with that Agency and with another charitable organisation. Diagnosed 2015 with ABPA (Allergic Broncho Pulmonary Aspergillosis) and suffer from many and varied allergies.